New NC charter schools have work to do to open this fall

khui@newsobserver.com sbarr@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2014 

North Carolina’s newest charter schools have a long way to go before they can open this fall.

The 26 charter schools approved Thursday by the State Board of Education now have to complete a lengthy checklist of items over the next several months, including hiring staff, recruiting enough students and securing a location. Failure to meet the requirements could result in their opening being delayed a year or even losing their charter – situations that have occurred before.

“The state needs to be doing more to help new charter schools,” said Eddie Goodall, executive director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association.

Charter schools are public schools that are exempt from some of the regulations that traditional public schools must follow. They are also independent of the school districts in which they’re located.

There are 127 charter schools open this school year compared with more than 2,000 traditional public schools in the state.

Charter schools receive state and local taxpayer funds to cover operating costs. But charters don’t receive taxpayer dollars for capital costs, such as buying buildings.

Many North Carolina charter schools use the funding from their operating budget to lease facilities.

Goodall said the problem is compounded by how new charters don’t get funding until July, shortly before they open. He said that it would help new charters if they got some of their money earlier.

Goodall said the state’s funding mechanism puts charter applicants who are trying to manage their own schools at a disadvantage compared with schools that have contracted with educational management agencies.

Two of the four new Wake County charter schools approved for this year would be operated by for-profit companies that are fronting the dollars to help them get started.

“They can afford to take the risk,” Goodall said.

Wake Forest Charter Academy, which will be managed by Michigan-based National Heritage Academies, plans to build a new facility in Wake Forest on Friendship Chapel Road near the Gateway Commons Shopping Center in time to open in the fall.

Cardinal Charter Academy, which will be managed by Florida-based Charter Schools USA, plans to build a facility at 1020 St. Charles Place in Cary that will be ready in time for the start of classes this year.

“It’s set up for those national companies,” said Diane Morris, president of the board of Dynamic Community Charter School, which was approved to open this year in Wake County. “But that’s where passion and commitment come in. We have that in spades.”

Dynamic’s board plans to run the school instead of hiring a company. The school would be a rarity among charters because of its focus on serving middle school and high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Dynamic has been holding bake sales, arts and craft sales and doing online fundraising to try to raise $250,000.

Morris said there was still a lot to do as they were waiting for final state approval that came last week. She said they’re hoping to sign a lease soon for a location in Raleigh.

Some of the other new charter schools have locked down their locations already.

Reaching All Minds Academy, Durham’s newest charter school, will open at 2703 Holloway St. School leaders say they will make renovations to the building and plan to be open in August.

Envision Science Academy plans to open this fall in a temporary location in North Raleigh for its first two years.

Portia Scott, an Envision board member, said school officials had hoped to open immediately in Wake Forest but could not find a suitable location.

By making the decision to move into a building near the intersection of Strickland and Six Forks roads, the board members know they will have a facility that is adequate for academics at a cost they can afford, she said.

“It was imperative that we made sure we were in good standing going into our first and second years,” she said.

Scott said the board will continue to plan for a permanent facility.

Envision got its temporary location because Endeavor Charter School will move out of the facility to its new home in Wake Forest. Like some charter schools, Endeavor formed a nonprofit foundation to raise the funds to acquire land and to build its own facility.

Some charter schools haven’t been as fortunate.

Last March, the State Board of Education approved 23 charter schools to open in 2013. An additional school, the Expedition School in Orange County, was given a one-year delay to open in 2014.

Expedition’s leaders had asked for a delay because they needed more time to find a facility. Since then, the school announced it has secured a lease in the Eno River Mill at 437 Dimmocks Mill Road in Hillsborough.

But one of the schools that got approval last year – the Howard and Lillian Lee Scholars Charter School – later asked for a one-year delay to give them more time to find both a location in Orange County and a company to manage operations. The State Board rejected the request, costing them the charter.

The school was named for Howard Lee, the first black mayor of Chapel Hill, a former state senator and chairman of the State Board of Education, and his wife, educator Lillian Lee.

Now called Lee Scholars Academy, it’s one of the 71 charter applicants that want to open in 2015. The school is now partnering with Charter Schools USA after National Heritage Academies pulled out last year.

Lee Scholars is trying to open in Durham. School organizers said in their application they’re still trying to locate a facility.

On Monday, the state Office of Charter Schools will recommend to the Charter Schools Advisory Board which of the 71 applicants should go forward for further review.

North Carolina could have more than 200 charter schools open in 2015 – double the number that existed until the state’s 100-school limit was lifted in 2011.

Staff writer Jonathan M. Alexander contributed to this report.

Hui: 919-829-4534

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